from the Independent Church of Truth
The History of the house at 2323 Lafayette Ave.
The location of the Independent Church of Truth and home to an unusual history containing that of a Civil War Steam Boat Captain, his family, August Nasse’s tragic losses, ghosts, spiritualists and one remarkable woman named Carrie Seib.
The history of 2323 Lafayette Ave goes back to the early 1800’s in the historic area surrounding Lafayette Common. The space was originally used by thieves who robbed travelers leaving St Louis heading west. The original house was built at an unknown time, but maps show a french style house on the property. The Common was incorporated as a city park in 1851 and the popularity for the cultured classes of the new wealthy of St Louis created the most popular neighborhood west of the Mississippi river, developing heavily during the 1870’s to 1890’s . Lafayette Square History and photos
In 1883 a former Civil War Steam Boat Captain named Conrad Fink would buy the property. This “pulled up from the bootstraps” War Veteran had owned a fleet of steam boats, was part owner of a bank, real estate dabbler, law practitioner, and ran a series of Wholesale Grocer businesses with three of his Son-in-laws. He chose Lafayette Square for the prestige and proximity to the Union Club (A Civil War veterans Social club) and Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church in which he was proud member. Conrad worked the very fabric of St Louis society, in and out of public roles. A very large extended family moved into the house with him. Two of his daughters with their husbands and kids happily remained a large presence in the area.
William M Wherry, a famous Civil war hero and writer of Missouri’s war history lived in the house for a short period as did the sponsored German immigrants of note he took in. The character of Conrad and his achievements could fill a website completely. His funeral was a massive affair in 1895, in which he left his estate and business to August Nasse, the husband of his oldest daughter.
On May 27, 1896, Lafayette Square was largely destroyed by a tornado. The tornado did millions of dollars worth of damage uprooting nearly all of the trees in the Park, destroying the bandstand, as well as the Union Club. 2323 Lafayette Avenue would lose the entire top floor of the house, and while the men were on 2nd street at the Wholesale Grocery store, the women and children survived while hiding in the basement. Nasse would take his family on a world tour and allow German architects to rebuild his mansion in a new style called Romanesque Revival. His initial still lingers on the front door.
Rebuilt by 1901, 2323 became a beacon of success in the Square area. August Nasse had settled in and was enjoying a well earned happiness. The Grand ballroom was used for social events, the gardens were built with help from world class gardeners and yet the house still has a German sensibility and simplicity to it. Tragedy stuck the family first with Conrad’s oldest son and August’s business partner William G Fink dying in 1901, shortly after a warehouse fire destroyed part of the family business supplies. Slowly August would lose two more sons and his wife by 1909. The last son Walter died at age 16 and his ghost has been seen wandering the garden. August would disappear into his beloved home built from sweat, hard work and loss, his sister Mathilda would move in to care for everything until his death in 1920. She would put the house for sale after a legal battle with the remaining Fink family and it was sold in 1922.
2323 Lafayette had fallen into disrepair and the gardens were overgrown, none the less another Lutheran Family who came from nothing to build their own riches bought the house for a low sum despite the ghosts and energetic depression that permeated the property. During one of the first few weeks of new ownership, George Jr would walk up to the second floor and see an older woman knitting on the old Nasse settee. He didn’t make anything of it at first, as many people were around the large house. Her ball of yarn fell under the seat and she rose to get it, moving around behind the chair. The problem was, it was against a wall and she disappeared into it.
Indeed the Seib Family had purchased the mansion in 1922 and began moving in sometime early in 1923. Since her arrival in America, Carrie had only lived above a small bakery, so having 8000 square feet of space to fill in with her family was a dream come true. Everyone came along. Edward Seib and his wife Pauline (Carrie’s younger sister from Germany), their daughter Alma, George M Seib, Carrie and their children George A and Edna. It is said German families new to America would come to live in the carriage house. Carrying on the tradition of Conrad Fink and having a large German close-knit family around, the property became alive again. The Seib family restored the gardens and retained a love for the Victorian era styles putting up the Christmas decorations formerly owned by the Nasse’s. A lot of furniture and artwork stayed in the house to be used again. They honored the older family as best they could. A story passed down and witnessed by many, is of a beautiful ghost woman in blue on the side porch looking out sadly over the garden. The description matches that of Caroline Nasse looking over the place her young son Walter would hide as a child. The ghosts never seemed to bother the Seib’s as Carrie was the spiritual protector of the family.
By the end of the 1920’s the family would go through many changes. George A Seib would finish his degree at Washington University Medical School and by a stroke of luck and hard work would follow his mentor Robert Terry into a teaching position at the new formed Physiology and Anthropology department. It was a first of it’s kind and as a fellow student turned teacher Francis Schmitt describes in a 1982 interview, George would skip the two years of premedical experience and go straight into teaching which was an unusual act. Edna would also attend Washington University in the Art Department. Carrie began her automatic spirit writing during this time period. Everything began to shift into the 1930’s. Edward would take his family and find a new home around the same time Carrie began to have Spiritualist church services. Edna would get married to a man named Ferd and also win an award for her work on the family garden.
In 1936 George would take an entire summer to work with a personal hero of his Smithsonian Curator Ales Hardlicka on his mission to Alaska’s Bering Strait to prove the origin of Native Americans. After the end of the trip he would claim he regretted the experience, and shortly after that left his teaching position to do Private Practice out of his home. As was the odd custom at Medical Univeristes at the time, when one cut the top of the skull off of a fresh cadaver you used it as an ashtray. Smoking was still allowed on campus and George hated both the habit and the sacrilege. On his last day he stole everyone’s “ashtrays” and buried them in the backyard at 2323 Lafayette. Life then revolved around Carrie, the church and the neighborhood he loved.
Over the next few decades Edna would get married and adopt two little girls, returning to the house after her husband’s death. George would get engaged but reject the woman over differences having to do with the house and his mother. George senior would pass on in 1946. By the late 1940’s George began to record the Spiritualist sessions. The house would see different influxes of life, yet the house was quiet during the week with only George and Carrie there. The 1950’s seemed to revolve around the church. With an economic boom coming after the war, George would stay busy doing house calls to St Louis Mayors and the residents of the neighborhood, not one to turn away a person in need he helped poorer families out of the old kitchen and even allowing some to stay in the Carriage house. Carrie’s health got bad in 1964 officially retiring the Independent church. She would pass on in 1969. George seemed to take on not only her legacy but the improvement of the house. In 1973 after some battles with the local historic preservation committees he tore down the house at 2329 that had sat empty for a very long time, lacking both a roof and floors. The carriage house was kept, restored and a pristine garden now rested on both sides of the house. He would allow the house to be viewed during the historical tours and would restore the entire house to it’s once glory even finding lost August Nasse World’s Fair prints to be hung. Edna and her daughter Jeanette would return where once again children roamed the halls. Young Tom describes watching Macgyver with his uncle and finding skull and bones stored all over the house from the “archeology days”.
George is told in tales of legendary acts. He tutored children about science at McKinley High, he took the family on a world tour where he bought a car for the European part. Carrie was able to see her childhood home. One local historian describes his first time coming to Lafayette Square was the mid 70’s when the Senior class party was at the Seib house. His female teacher was said to be close to George. A local real estate couple have Carrie’s poem volumes and visited Edna at the home before her death. Paperwork has George at many of the local hospitals filling in, and helping with unusual cases. The first all African American staffed Hospital has George there from time to time. The legacy of the family could fill a novel.
Into the modern era we see the house at 2323 Lafayette avenue stay empty for over 15 years. The remaining family would attempt to retain the house while living in the carriage houses, but taxes and time changes everything. Over 80 year in the hands of one family is remarkable. The furniture and art would be sold to keep the household going but finally in 2015 the house was sold. A restoration would begin in 2016 and the current timetable puts it done this summer. How did the tapes get into the dumpster is a question often asked? Imagine if one family left everything they ever owned in one place. The amount of leftover boxes, books, folders, junk and trash was nothing short of astounding and reasonable given the longevity of the household. The simple answer is, with water damage, no one knew what was left. The current owners and remaining family do retain an enormous amount of poems, writing, photos and family history and intend on allowing the historic nature of the house to be known. This aim of this project and the Dumpster Archeology is too tell that story.